Now it’s all down to Laurens Academy, the only one of the county’s football teams that remains alive.

Clinton got better. Laurens couldn’t overcome the losses from a magnificent 2019 campaign. The coronavirus put a damper on everything on and off the fields. The last bitter pill to swallow came on Wednesday when the godforsaken scourge brought an end to the Raiders’ season and forced cancellation of the rivalry with Clinton that has been played every since season since 1969.

The Crusaders (8-3) are winning, but when people look back on 2020, the conclusion will be that the virus won.

I feel fortunate to deal on a week-to-week basis with three head coaches – Daryl Smith at LDHS, Corey Fountain at CHS and Todd Kirk – who are great guys. Another, Presbyterian College’s Tommy Spangler, has been quietly keeping the Blue Hose prepared for a football season that will likely start in February.

This year has had a spontaneous quality that is unsettling. Only Laurens Academy and its fellow members of the S.C. Independent School Association have proceeded with football as usual. That is refreshing but there’s a bit of a bitter taste in the beverage. I worry about the Crusaders as much as any other team. So far, so good, and it’s on to Holly Hill (Academy, 11-0) for a second playoff round after a 30-14 victory over Patrick Henry Academy.

Laurens Academy is having its best season in a decade. The Crusaders, all 17 of them, have won eight of their last nine games. It’s been fun to watch even though there have been times I was too busy to see.

Hope is in the air in Clinton, where only a pair of excruciating losses kept the Red Devils out of the COVID-impaired Class 3A playoffs. Clinton (3-3) is young and vibrant. They were better this year than last, and they’re going to be better next year than this. The season began with 16 sophomores on the roster, and still the junior varsity won every game.

Laurens (2-4) has a talented sophomore quarterback, James Rawl, who is on the verge of stardom. At the beginning of the season, I was impressed by his judgment, but as the losses piled up and the playoff prospects dimmed, he probably tried to do a bit more than was achievable. He has the confidence, the skills and the guts. Next year those qualities will work in his favor.

To date I have seen the Crusaders play five games, the Raiders four and the Red Devils three. Laurens Academy played four games before the other two schools played any. My part-time writer, Caleb Gilbert, has covered Clinton three times, Laurens twice and Laurens Academy once. Offering advice and editing has been a great experience. He is a senior at the University of South Carolina, and most of his assignments have been based on me not paying him enough to send him farther north. He takes criticism constructively and learns from his every mistake.

I hope there will never be another year like this one. Smaller crowds have eliminated home-field advantages. So much has changed that I’m somewhat afraid to turn on the TV or read my emails each morning. My assignment book has more notations that are struck through than ones that were actually executed.

September 3 (Thursday)

Presbyterian at Morehead State (Ky.)

September 4 (Friday)

Laurens at Union County

Clinton at Newberry

Laurens Academy at Palmetto Christian (Charleston)

September 5 (Saturday)

Wofford at Furman

This is how optimistic I was a week before the above dates. I tried to figure out how I could drive to Kentucky on Thursday, and get back to the Upstate in time for the games on Friday and Saturday. It wouldn’t have been any more grueling than putting the three high school games on the website every Friday night. Downloading, choosing, cropping, adjusting and placing photos on the website took me well into the wee hours before I even started writing and editing. In all those weeks, the earliest I got to bed was 3 a.m.

Now basketball and a new array of sports await, not to mention college football apparently commencing in late February at my two favorite colleges, neither of whom were in a position to forge ahead this fall due to TV money.

Normality remains elusive, but running a sports website without having any sports was … interesting. Interesting is far from running its course.

Who says I’m not optimistic by nature? I’m thankful for the business. If I can get out this week and sell a few more ads, I might be able to make a living at this gig.